The first hundred years of the second millennium have been dubbed the “Asian Century”, and with regional wealth growing and forecasts off the charts, global yacht manufacturers have their eyes firmly trained on Asia. The Asian marketplace, however, is complex and success is not guaranteed. One of the keys to unlocking the region's boating potential is in educating people about the boating lifestyle, about boat purchase and boat use.
“A lot of Asian first-time yacht buyers are new to boating and they don't know the difference between one brand or the other,” notes Della Rugdee, Yacht Broker, Hong Seh Marine. “The perception for new Asian boat buyers would be to compare the origin of the boat built with the car industry”.
While expatriates have been the traditional driver of boat sales in Asia, today more and more Asians are showing interest in boat ownership, however, a lack of brand knowledge and a general understanding of the boating lifestyle is a hurdle many of the leading Asian-based dealerships and brokers are experiencing, and are working to overcome.
This lack of awareness and understanding of boating is prevalent in the Asian superyacht market too. “The market in Asia still developing. For example, mainland Chinese don't yet really understand what a superyacht is. One of the most popular questions we are asked is “what can you do with a superyacht?”, says Yunzhu JIN, Asia Director, Amels. This sentiment is echoed by Natalie YE, Marketing Manager, Benetti Asia Ltd. “First time buyers may have a very strong idea of what they want but some will only have a little understanding of how to own a superyacht. Asian customers will also ask about yacht operation and management as they are not as familiar with running a yacht, her crew and their cruising needs.”
“For most Asian buyers, buying a superyacht is not just for fun, it's an investment. Money is not so much of a problem; interested buyers have the money to buy but they want to spend their money in the best way possible,” adds Yunzhu.
Understanding buyers and their needs can be difficult, especially with regards to yacht design and owner usage. Asia is a melting pot of religions and beliefs, a region steeped in history, and culture can play a large part in the purchasing decision. In an industry dominated by European and American brands, ensuring their relevance to Asia and Asian buyers is front of mind for manufacturers and designers with many realising the importance of bespoke to the marketplace and to individuals' needs. Taking this on board, yacht designers and manufacturers are beginning to increase optimization and incorporate Asian tastes into yacht designs, while also taking into account how Asians use their boats, which is very different to Western owners.
“We start to focus a lot more on outdoor shading. For example, we are looking at stylish Biminis for the foredeck as Asians prefer not to be out in the sun or the heat. With proper shading and nice canopies, it becomes more appealing to them. We also look at nice aft deck awnings on our sports boats, giving the sunbed area a more loungey feel,” comments Alister Brunskill, Country Head, Singapore, Princess Yachts South East Asia.“We have also incorporated mahjong tables in place of coffee tables, list karaoke machines as an option and have installed a whisky cabinet and cigar drawer.”
The desire to entertain friends and family is a theme with Asian buyers and as notes, Sergio Loiacono, Thailand Country Sales Manager, Simpson Marine, “Asian buyers of larger yachts often like to have the galley close to the saloon and dining spaces as they like to host guests frequently. Asian buyers like to host with food, often in a buffet style, hence some prefer less formal dining spaces and more buffet spaces instead.”Referring to the optimisation of a Princess 62 for an Asian client, Brunskill explains how the master stateroom was converted to a karaoke room in which top-end karaoke machines and a large drop-down projector screen was installed. “In the industry, this is considered huge customization for a boat that size”.
“Customisation is popular naturally in the larger yachts, generally over 100ft, and the customisation level tends to be 100%. We have had requests to include entertaining spaces such as karaoke lounges, bespoke wine cellars, landing space for folding planes, space for submarines and water toys, a helipad and much more,” adds Nick Stratton, Singapore Country Sales Manager, Simpson Marine.
The need for optimization is clear, however, a more holistic approach to design may be needed. As Amels points out, Feng Shui is very important in Asia and is something Western designers should perhaps learn more about. “In countries such as China, Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, Feng Shui is very important. However, Feng Shui is not so well understood by western yacht designers and we need to help designers understand it more. While Western owners like simple, classic design, often blacks and whites, Asian people often think these colours are sad and prefer something more colourful. Chinese people often have their own special colours and colour in Asia provides a happy feeling,” comments Yunzhu of Amels.
Looking at the type of boat that Asian buyers prefer also highlights the differences between East and West. While helming your own sailing yacht and feeling the wind on your face may appeal to westerners, motor yachts and a more interior-focussed usage pattern, appeals to Asian owners.
“Asia buyers will always be looking at power. The sail is another level and one that requires specific skills. Most Asian buyers typically look for space onboard, comfort and a modern interior because they would compare that to a luxury villa or a large hotel suite that they have stayed at before,” says Rugdee of Hong Seh Marine.
“We are starting to see an increasing trend of Asian buyers purchasing boats with fewer cabin options. For instance, Ferretti Group is starting to build the 'Tai He Ban' layout especially for Asian buyers, which includes a large entertainment or multi-purpose group space”. Ferretti's Tai He Ban collection offers new interior layouts that are more suitable for social occasions with increased entertainment areas, making the boat a meeting or party platform as opposed to an overnighter.
Having a long-established presence in Asia, Princess Yachts have a depth of experience selling too and working with, Asian buyers. “Chinese ultra-high-net-worth individuals tend to require less powerful motors; they want larger indoor areas for corporate entertaining activities with smaller outdoor decks and fewer sleeping cabins; they like to be part of exclusive marina clubs; not many want to have to pay over the odds in import tax from Europe, but they are willing to spend significantly to hire a crew rather than managing the yachts themselves,” explains Brunskill.
With specific reference to superyachts, Natalie YE of Benetti Asia notes that “Western buyers can be very focussed on the exterior areas of the yacht, sunbathing and private areas, as well charter capability and commercial specification, advanced technology and engineering, and providing comfort for their crew. For an Asian owner, the interior areas are very important, the flexibility to entertain and cater to large groups and to conduct business aboard. Even large yachts are used for short trips and day boating but with such extensive cruising available throughout Asia long-range capability is a consideration that can only be achieved with displacement and "Fast" yachts such as Benetti.”
With a heritage reaching back to 1918 Amels is known for building superyachts to the highest quality and the finest precision. At the forefront of modern superyacht design, Amels introduced the 57.70-metre Amels 188 with a clear understanding of the needs of wealthy Asian buyers and will deliver their first of the model in spring 2018.
The hull and lines of the upper superstructure have been inspired by Chinese architecture while there is extensive use of spherical shapes in the interior design and portholes – round meaning complete, lucky and happy in China. Even the name of the model has significance – 188 is considered a lucky number in Asia and implies someone is certain to make a big fortune. Dealers and brokers with a presence and experience in Asia acknowledge there is vast potential for boating in the region and for creating a new generation of Asian boat owners. And all acknowledge the need to accept differences between owners in the West and East, their different tastes and also the ways in which they use their boats.
Optimisation is more than a change of colour, it's about listening to a buyer's needs, sharing ideas and discussing options. Educating and understanding will be at the core of the future success of boat sales in the Asian region.